[Ed's Note: How late is THIS thing? We have a good reason: PCs, man. Sometimes gaming on a PC is HARD. Take our Battlefield 4 review code for example: it took a bajillionty hours to download and then, once it did, the HDD crashed. We're guessing that that wasn't Battlefield 4's fault. So once we swapped out the drive, we had to spend another bajillionty hours downloading the game again. So now you know why we're a little late. Take it away, Chris.]
So, Levolution. Every one of these big franchise shooters has to do something to distinguish itself from its predecessors aside from prettier graphics and a couple of new perks and game modes. For Battlefield 4, it’s levolution.
In case you somehow missed EA’s bumbling hype train, levolution is the tragically lame catchphrase used to describe their dynamic multiplayer maps, with various destructible aspects of the environment which can be triggered in order to change the way the level plays. But does it work?
Sort of. It’s pretty impressive the first few times it happens, but the novelty does wear off once you’ve played through all the maps. They’re certainly visually impressive, with skyscrapers tumbling to the ground and burst dams flooding streets, but these scripted events quickly become more of a sideshow attraction than the main event.
That being said, levolution has a sizable impact on the way map plays out. Defensive fortresses can suddenly become exposed and vulnerable, and as a team you’re forced into shifting strategy to adapt to the new conditions. Conversely, you give yourself the edge if you understand how to utilise these triggers to your favour.
In the long run you’re not likely to love or hate this new feature, it just becomes something that is there. My only real qualm is that on some of the maps it feels a tad shoehorned in, without the significant impact that really warrants the effort to trigger it.
What I did like was the destructibility of the rest of the environment. Most buildings can be blasted apart, a well-placed projectile can collapse houses and roads and most of everything that looks like it can’t withstand a rocket, can’t.
It doesn’t have the same flair as levolution, but blasting a hole in a wall to expose an enemy sniper is definitely more satisfying.
Levolution is essentially the only thing which sets Battlefield 4 apart from predecessors; aside from that there’s not much of a change from Battlefield 3. Multiplayer is still a strategic 64-man warzone, with the usual crop of helicopters, tanks, jets and everything in between.
The finer details and polish are still there too. The game is beautiful to look at, and the audio is sublime. If you own a fancy sound card and a nice set of headphones, hearing the rifles clank noisily and the jet engines boom is an experience in itself.
The guns themselves handle much like they have in the past; they feel guttural and realistic without being impossible to handle. One small change which I loved is that knife melee attacks from the front can now be reversed if you’re quick enough, which make for the most satisfying kills I’ve ever experienced in an FPS.
If you loved Battlefield 3, you’ll likely have a great deal of fun with Battlefield 4. New maps, a new campaign and a couple of small changes is likely all you’ll need to get your money’s worth – and that’s what DICE seems to be counting on. Why change a formula that works?
Conversely, if Battlefield 3 didn’t really grab your attention I’d steer clear of Battlefield 4; there’s nothing here that’s likely to change your mind.
Fans of the franchise will be pleased to know that, gimmicky dynamics aside, the maps are some of the best we’ve ever seen out of DICE’s team. While as usual you can run around in a cordoned off section in Team Deathmatch, the levels can only be properly experienced in the game’s Conquest mode, where you and your team will have to utilise all resources and skills to retain control over your territory.
Easily the best of these (and a favourite on the SA servers) is Hainan Resort: a tropical bay with a damaged hotel in the centre. Every vehicle can be utilised effectively, and rogue infantry (such as myself) have a decent shot at infiltrating an enemy position just long enough to recapture a control point. Of course, the enormous hotel overseeing the action is a favourite perch for snipers.
A final, important mention for the multiplayer component is the return of Commander Mode, which has one player take the role of strategist, issuing orders from a top-down tactical screen to those on the battlefield. It does require some cooperation, but when it works, it works beautifully.
Unfortunately, the single-player campaign is a disappointment. It’s clear that DICE is attempting to weave a real and emotional story into the gunplay, but it’s soured by clichéd level design and a predictable rolling out of military stereotypes. The characters talk like action figures, not people, and the story is one you’ll find yourself not really caring about.
The problem here is that while Call of Duty games embrace their stereotyped, ridiculous plotlines with reckless abandon and manage to turn them into more of a theme park ride than an emotional experience, Battlefield 4 attempts to present a superficial, unconnected story as something with actual depth.
The excellent combat from the Multiplayer doesn’t make it into the campaign either – instead of sprawling warzones with a variety of approaches, you spend a lot of time mowing down goons in corridors with an SMG.
One new feature is the introduction of squad commands, which allows you to control your allies. It sounds interesting, but the uninspired level designs tend to mean you’re just ordering them to attack enemies like you’re sic’ing a dog; it never felt like there was much tactical decision making involved.
It is, however, beautiful. The game at times feels more like a tech demo for the new Frostbite 3 engine than anything else, but those with high-end graphics cards may get enough enjoyment out of the campaign just watching things explode and fall over.
Overall, you’re not buying this game for the forgettable campaign – you’re buying it for the multiplayer, which is mostly excellent. There have been some issues with bugs and other niggles, but my experience with the game so far has been fine. I’m glad DICE is working on it, but if you’re interested in the game but have been feeling a little gun-shy, don’t. It’s not perfect, but it’s fun, and that’s what we’re all here for anyway.